Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from the author (hardback $29.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $6.00). Just send an email to zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

California school district blacklists Christian club from elementary school

Hayward Unified School District: hostile to religion

They’re coming for you next: Despite allowing the Good News Clubs of the Child Evangelism Fellowship to meet in its Fairview Elementary School for years prior to the COVID lockdowns, the Hayward Unified School District has since blocked further meetings with no explanation, even as it has allowed many other similar but secular clubs to return.

As a result, the non-profit legal firm Liberty Council has sent a demand letter [pdf] to Hayward, threatening it with legal action if it does not immediately allow the Good News Clubs meeting space. As the letter notes,

California law and District policies do not permit the District to deny the use of facilities to
the GNC [Good News Club], particularly where such are made available to Scouts and GOTR [Girls on the Run]. District practice has been to make facilities freely available to these and other groups similarly situated to the GNC, immediately after school. Moreover, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States (and the District) by the Fourteenth Amendment, also prohibits discriminatory denials of facilities use based on unbridled administrator discretion, or based upon religious viewpoint.

» Read more

A gully in Mars’ glacier country

Overview map

A gully in Mars' glacier country
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, sharpened, and brightened to post here, was taken on July 8, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO).

The white dot in the southwest corner of 146-mile-wide Lyot Crater on the overview map above marks the location, smack dab in the middle of the 2,000-mile-long northern mid-latitude strip I dub glacier country, since practically every high resolution picture shows some glacial features. This picture is no different. The material in the upper right of the picture appears to be ice that fills the crater and laps up against its interior slope. The gully appears to suggest a drainage down into that ice that partly covered it.

The elevation change from the high to low points is about 4,500 feet. What drained down this slope to carve this gully however remains an unsolved mystery, though most scientists presently favor some form of water or brine flow in the past and no longer active.

Regular readers can support Behind The Black by either making a one time donation for whatever amount you wish, or you sign up for a monthly subscription ranging from $2 to $15 through Paypal, or $3 to $50 through Patreon, or any amount through Zelle.

The best method to donate or subscribe is by using Zelle through your internet bank account, since it charges no fees to you or I. You will need to give my name and email address (found at the bottom of the "About" page). What you donate is what I get.

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If these electronic payment methods don't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to

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c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

The global wind patterns on Mars, determined by the orientation of dunes

Mars global wind patterns

Wind patterns at the Martina North Pole

Scientists have now roughly determined the global wind patterns on Mars, based on the orientation of one type of crescent-shaped dune called barchan dunes.

The global map above and the north pole map to the right come from figure 2 of the paper. The colored letters indicate the location of additional close-up images. On the polar map Olympia Undae is Mars’ largest dune field. From the abstract:

Crescent-shaped sand dunes are prevalent across the deserts of Mars. Here, we use the physical relationship between the shape of these dunes and the winds that form them to infer the directions of surface winds on Mars on a global scale. We find that dunes typically adhere to the global circulation patterns of Mars’ atmosphere, and that local topographic winds are mostly important in areas with high topographic roughness such as inside deep impact craters. Our global wind map can serve to calibrate numerical climate models, which in turn can help us learn about the recent and modern-day climate of Mars.

The arrows on both maps indicate the direction of the prevailing winds. This data will also help clarify the orientation of many surface features seen by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s high resolution camera. This data also helps explain why the lander InSight never got a burst of wind to clear the dust from its solar panels, while the rovers Spirit and Opportunity did. The rovers were located in regions with clear prevailing winds. InSight was not.

Webb takes an infared look at Saturn

Webb's five images of Saturn
Webb’s five images of Saturn. Click for original.

Using the Webb Space Telescope, scientists have obtained five infrared images of Saturn to get a more detailed look at the gas giant’s atmosphere and the molecules within it.

The image to the right is Figure 1 from the paper, showing the location of those five images on Saturn, placed over a much higher resolution Hubble Space Telescope optical image. The graph on the bottom shows the molecules revealed from spectroscopic data obtained by Webb’s infrared view. From the abstract:

We show evidence that a stratospheric circulation pattern detected by Cassini during northern winter has now fully reversed in northern summer, with the low-latitude stratosphere being cool and depleted in aerosols due to summertime upwelling. MIRI [Webb’s mid-infrared instrument] provides access to spectral regions that were not possible with the Cassini spacecraft, particularly in the 5–7 μm region where reflected sunlight and thermal emission blend together. Ammonia and phosphine are enriched at Saturn’s equator, suggesting strong mixing from the deeper troposphere. MIRI’s high sensitivity enables the first identification of previously unseen emission propane bands, along with the first measurements of the distribution of several gaseous species: tropospheric water, and stratospheric ethylene, benzene, methyl, and carbon dioxide.

The paper notes that this work still has uncertainty because when the infrared images were taken engineers were still working out the kinks for using Webb. Nonetheless, the results illustrate the large potential for future planetary discoveries from Webb.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

Another retraction looms of research claiming the discovery of superconductivity at room temperature

A March research paper that claimed the discovery of a compound that allowed superconductivity at room temperature is now facing retraction, making it the third superconductivity paper in which physicist Ranga Dias of University of Rochester was the lead author.

On 1 September, Nature attached an editor’s note to the March paper, warning readers that “the reliability of data presented in this manuscript is currently in question.” A week later, eight of the co-authors on the 11-person paper submitted a letter to Nature requesting the study be retracted, The Wall Street Journal first reported on Tuesday. Science has obtained the letter and additional documents, which raise concerns about the reliability of the data and Dias’s treatment of his co-authors. “We respectfully request and recommend that Nature issue a retraction,” conclude the signatories, who include five recent graduate students of Dias’s.

The article at the link is worth reading, as it details at length the bullying efforts of Dias to intimidate his co-authors by threatening legal action.

Before the co-authors sent their letter to Nature, Dias sent a cease-and-desist letter to six of them—five of his former graduate students and one U of R faculty member. He warned them about the “potential legal consequences of your actions and to consider the ethical implications of making baseless allegations against a colleague and fellow scientist.” Dias has previously sent cease-and-desist letters to other critics of his work.

This is not all. It appears that Dias used his position of authority to prevent an honest appraisal of his work, actions that are in utter violation of ethics and the scientific method.

While it is good that Dias’s chickens are now coming home to roost, his corrupt behavior is unfortunately too common now in the academic world, as indicated by the increase in retractions by 13,750% since 2000.

The good news however is that these retractions are helping to clean out that corruption. Though cleaning house will take time, it does appears to be happening. For example, according to the article, absolutely no students have enrolled in any of Dias’s classes at the University of Rochester.

SpaceX’s military version of Starlink wins $70 million Space Force contract

Capitalism in space: The Space Force yesterday awarded SpaceX a $70 million contract to provide it communications and broadband capabilities though the military version of Starlink, dubbed Starshield.

A Space Force spokesperson confirmed that SpaceX on Sept. 1 was awarded a one-year contract for Starshield with a maximum value of $70 million. The award came alongside 18 other companies through a program run by the Space Force’s commercial satellite communications office.

“The SpaceX contract provides for Starshield end-to-end service (via the Starlink constellation), user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management and other related services,” Space Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told CNBC.

Though this contract is for satellite services, it will increase SpaceX’s need to launch and complete its Starlink constellation. Though it has successfully launched a lot of satellites using the Falcon 9 rocket, it has always said it needs Starship/Superheavy to properly build and maintain the constellation.

Thus, NASA is no longer the only government agency with a strong motive to get Starship/Superheavy launched. Expect both NASA and the Pentagon to apply pressure on the White House to ease up on SpaceX. Expect that pressure to have little influence, unless the public joins in loudly.

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 4 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. The price for an autographed copy of this rare collector's item is now $150 (plus $5 shipping).


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $155 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

More than a year after the New Shepard accident, the FAA finally closes its investigation

It appears that Elon Musk and SpaceX is not the only space company being stymied by the new heavy-handed regulation coming from the federal bureaucracy since Joe Biden took power. In a statement issued yesterday, the FAA announced that is had finally closed its own investigation into the New Shepard accident that occurred on September 12, 2022, more than a year after it occurred. More significantly, the FAA also said that despite completing its investigation, it is still denying Blue Origin a launch license to resume suborbital flights.

The FAA required Blue Origin implement 21 corrective actions to prevent mishap reoccurrence, including redesign of engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation as well as organizational changes. … The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of New Shepard launches. Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next New Shepard launch.

It once again must be stated that there is no one at the FAA truly qualified to make such recommendations. These are paper-pushers, even if they have some engineering background. The FAA must rely on Blue Origin’s own engineers to determine these issues, as well figure out what must be done to fix them.

While Blue Origin’s own corporate culture — terribly slow at accomplishing anything — is certainly at major factor in these delays, it appears the FAA has not been helping. Blue Origin had announced the completion of its own investigation in March, six months ago, with the same conclusions as the FAA investigation completed now. Why did it take the FAA six more months to close its own investigation?

Moreover, the FAA’s statement makes it clear that Blue Origin has not yet satisfied the government’s demands, even though the investigation is closed. For Blue Origin to have still not implemented the corrections is to be expected, considering its slow methods of operation, but this statement — similar to the statement issued in connection with closing its investigation of the SpaceX’s Superheavy/Starship test flight — suggests a new and unprecedented policy at the FAA, treating all space-related incidents as if the rockets and spacecraft are no different than airplanes. First it will take its time issuing its own investigation, then it will take its time approving the corrections any company implements, just to make sure all the “i”s are dotted and the “t”‘s are crossed.

It is also possible that the FAA has been ordered to implement this new heavy-handed policy by higher ups in the White House on all companies, in order to hide the political motivations that have been targeting SpaceX and Elon Musk.

Regardless, this new strict regulation likely means we should expect a serious slowdown in the rebirth of commercial space. The renaissance of achievement by private enterprise in the past decade in space could be ending.

Anti-matter falls down, just like matter

The uncertainty of science: In a difficult particle physics experiment that carries large margins for error, scientists have determined that gravity appears to affect anti-matter the same as matter.

Quantitatively, the experiment indicates that antimatter experiences a pull from gravity that’s 75% as strong as that on ordinary matter, give or take 20%—a statistical agreement between the two. Hangst says 99.9% of physicists would have predicted the result. Still, he notes, “You have to do the experiment with an open mind.”

One must understand that, at atomic levels, the influence of gravity is practically nil. Extracting a measurment of its influence outside the other more powerful forces that dominate atomic particles, magnetism, the weak force, and the strong force, is difficult, to put it mildly.

The key is that the experiment result showed some influence of gravity, in the expected direction.

September 27, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesty of BtB’s stringer Jay, who also deserves hat tips for the Ingenuity and Iran stories earlier today.




Today’s blacklisted American: Hollywood’s new racist discrimination employment policies which blacklist whites

Hollywood: eager to discriminate based on race

They’re coming for you next: According to a lawsuit filled by the non-profit legal firm First Liberty on behalf of James Harker, a white film electrician, the film industry has set up a racially segregated apprentice program that specifically excludes whites and is designed only for minorities.

When Harker complained about the bigoted nature of this program, he was then blacklisted, and has no longer been able to get any freelance jobs, despite 27 years of experience in the industry.

You can read the lawsuit here [pdf]. The program itself is called “Double the Line” (DTL). Its purpose is to force film companies to hire one minority to match every crew person it hires normally. That minority will be paid a full if not higher salary, regardless of his or her experience or training, and will later receive favored treatment in hiring, in order “to push forward a demographic shift,” as noted on the Equity and Inclusion website of the Association of Independent Producers (AICP), one of the defendents in this case.

In other words, the program specifically favors minorities in hiring and training, and specifically excludes whites because of their race.

The lawsuit was triggered when Harker discovered this program on a job. » Read more

The base of the long and deep south rim of Valles Marineris

Overview map

The base of southern slope of Valles Marineris
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on July 14, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), showing the very bottom section of the long and endlessly deep south slopes of Valles Marineris, the largest known canyon in the solar system.

The many layers here are likely evidence of repeated volcanic flood lava events, over several billion years, after which the canyon formed.

On the overview map above the black dot in the southeast section of the area of the canyon dubbed Melas marks this location. The picture’s northeast corner is essentially the floor of Valles Marineris. From this point the elevation gain to the southwest corner of the picture 3.5 miles away is about 3,300 feet.

The rim itself however is far far higher, about fifty miles farther to the southwest and climbing about 22,000 feet more. Along those fifty miles you’d have to also climb over two intervening mountain ranges, one about 4,000 feet high and the second about 6,000 feet high.

Valles Marineris is big, so big it is hard to imagine a canyon this size. It makes many moutain ranges on Earth seem small.

Ingenuity completes 60th flight, sets new speed record

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

On September 25, 2023 the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity completed its 60th flight on Mars, traveling 1,116 feet in 133 seconds at an altitude of 53 feet.

In doing so, the helicopter set a new speed record, approximately 17.9 miles per hour. As has become somewhat routine, it flew for slightly farther and longer then its original flight plan, probably because it needed a bit of extra time to find a safe landing spot.

The overview map above shows in green the flight’s approximate distance and route, with the red dotted line indicating the future planned route of the rover Perseveranc. Since the Perseverance science team has not yet updated its rover/helicopter location map to indicate the exact landing spot, I have roughly marked it based on the distance traveled and its intended direction, to the northwest.

The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present location, where it is presently drilling to obtain anotther core sample.

Iran launches spy satellite

Iranian officials today confirmed the successful launch of its Qased rocket, placing a classifed Noor spy satellite into orbit.

The Space Force confirmed this announcement, tracking two objects (one likely the satellite and the other the upper stage) in a 442 by 456 kilometer orbit with a 60.0 degree inclination. That steep inclination will allow the satellite to cross over two thirds of the Earth’s surface.

This was Iran’s first launch in 2023, and third launch of this type spy satellite and rocket since 2020. The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain the same:

68 SpaceX
44 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

Expect long delays after third Artemis mission

Link here. The article outlines from a different perspective the many problems faced by NASA’s Artemis program, specifically related to its SLS rocket.

First, that fourth Artemis mission will require a larger first stage, which is far behind schedule and should not be ready until late 2028 (though I predict at least one to two years beyond that date).

Second, that larger upper stage will require completion of a new mobile launcher platform, replacing the mobile launcher now in use that cost about a half billion and will only be used three times. The new launcher platform however is also behind schedule and overbudget. Its completion is not expected until 2027 (though I predict at least one year beyond that date).

Thus, even if the third Artemis mission flies in 2026, as presently scheduled, it will be at least two years before the fourth can fly, but more likely the gap will be three to four years.

Everything related to NASA’s SLS rocket is a mess. If the people running our government had brains, they would immediately dump it and do everything they can to speed development of Starship/Superheavy, which has a better design, is reusuable, is more powerful, has greater capabilities, and most important of all, will be able to fly frequently and quickly at a very low cost, something that SLS will never be able to do.

Unfortunately, the people running our government have no brains, or to be more precise, refuse to use them because of their own selfish petty interests. SLS will go on, wasting billions. And the effort to squelch Starship/Superheavy will also continue, because these petty federal officials can’t have a private company show them up. No way! It must be their way, or the highway!

Nearest supernova in a decade confirms such stars lose mass prior to exploding

Gemini North image of supernova in Pinwheel Galaxy
Arrow points to supernova. Click for original image,
taken by the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii.

Astronomers making a detailed analysis of the data from the nearest supernova in a decade, SN 2023ixf and located in the Pinwheel Galaxy only 20 million light years away, has confirmed what other research had suggested, that such stars lose significant mass prior to exploding.

Within hours of going supernova, core-collapse supernovae produce a flash of light that occurs when the shock wave from the explosion reaches the outer edge of the star. SN 2023ixf, however, produced a light curve that didn’t seem to fit this expected behavior. To better understand SN 2023ixf’s shock breakout, a team of scientists led by CfA postdoctoral fellow Daichi Hiramatsu analyzed data from the 1.5m Tillinghast Telescope, 1.2m telescope, and MMT at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, a CfA facility located in Arizona, as well as data from the Global Supernova Project— a key project of the Las Cumbres Observatory, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and many others. This multi-wavelength study, which was published this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, revealed that, in sharp contradiction to expectations and stellar evolution theory, SN 2023ixf’s shock breakout was delayed by several days.

“The delayed shock breakout is direct evidence for the presence of dense material from recent mass loss,” said Hiramatsu, adding that such extreme mass loss is atypical of Type II supernovae. “Our new observations revealed a significant and unexpected amount of mass loss— close to the mass of the Sun— in the final year prior to explosion.”

The press release overstates the surprise of this discovery. Research in the last two decades of massive stars that are thought to be the progenitors of supernovae has shown that they lose mass in great amounts during eruptions. It was therefore not that surprising that this star experienced its own eruption prior to going supernova.

India successfully tests upgraded upper stage engine for manned mission

India’s space agency ISRO has now successfully completed full power static fire engine tests of a more power version of the upper stage engine used by the most powerful version of its GSLV rocket, the LVM3, thus preparing it to launch that nation’s first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan.

On September 22, 2023, this test was conducted at the state-of-the-art test facility located at IPRC, Mahendragiri. During this test, the CE20 engine operated at the coveted 22-tonne thrust level for a duration of 670 seconds. Both the engine and the testing facility performed flawlessly, meeting all the performance parameters.

ISRO is still targeting 2024 for the first manned mission, but that target remains somewhat uncertain, though less so as one-by-one the agency completes these performance tests successfully.

Small group of astronomers call for renaming the Magellanic Clouds, accusing Magellan of racism

They’re coming for you next: A new group of about fifty astronomers are now demanding that the Magellanic Clouds in the southern hemisphere be renamed because they don’t like it that Magellan was both a man of his time and also a white European explorer.

Magellan’s name is not fitting, astronomer Mia de los Reyes and colleagues argue. The leader of the first expedition to successfully circle the globe, Magellan enslaved and killed Indigenous people encountered on the voyage, which set out from Spain in 1519.

“Because we’re naming things in the night sky, which belongs to everyone, we think that it’s important to have names that reflect all of humanity,” says de los Reyes, of Amherst College in Massachusetts. She calls for the name change in an opinion piece published September 12 in Physics. Magellan’s voyage helped pave the way for Spanish colonialism in South America, Guam and the Philippines, says de los Reyes, who is Filipino American. “Many people see Magellan as a villain in the Philippines.”

No matter that Magellan was a great explorer who sacrificed his life to finally prove without doubt that the Earth was a sphere. No matter that he was the first person to document the existence of the Magellanic Clouds, which is why they are named for him. He was white and a European, and thus his place in history must be cancelled forever.

It also should not matter that the claims against Magellan are partly true, though magnified greatly into a slander by the use of Marxist terms. His prime mission was one of exploration, and the natives he kidnapped were taken not for purposes of slavery but to provide further documentation of what he had discovered.

No human being is perfect, and if we accept these demands to measure the past by these perfect standards we will have to cancel all history forever.

Which by the way is the real point. These radicals aren’t really interested in honoring the right people and taking honor away from the wrong people. What they want to do is to discredit all past Western history, and replace it with a Marxist fantasy that makes believe the achievements of European and Western Civilization never happened.

Giant Magellan Telescope begins fabricating its seventh mirror

The fabrication of the seventh and last mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) has begun, with its completion and installation expected before the end of the decade.

In the project’s latest development, the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at another founding project partner, the University of Arizona, closed the lid on nearly 20 tons of the purest optical glass inside a one-of-a-kind oven housed beneath the stands of the university’s football stadium. The spinning oven will heat the glass to 1,165 degrees Celsius, so that as it melts, it is forced outward to form the mirror’s curved paraboloid surface. Measuring 8.4-meters in diameter—about two stories tall when standing on edge—the mirror will cool over the next three months before moving into the polishing stage.

Once assembled, all seven mirrors will work in concert as one monolithic 25.4-meter mirror—a diameter equal to the length of a full-grown blue whale—resulting in up to 200 times the sensitivity and four times the image resolution of today’s most advanced space telescopes.

A decade ago it was expected that this telescope in Chile would follow the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), while also working in parallel with it, with TMT covering the northern hemisphere and GMT covering the southern hemisphere. Now GMT is likely to forever work alone, as TMT remains blocked in Hawaii by the government and anti-western, anti-white protesters, and will likely never be built.

Three astronauts return to Earth safely, completing 371 day mission

One American, Frank Rubio, and two Russians, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, early today safely returned to Earth in their Russian Soyuz capsule, completing the longest mission yet on ISS, 371 days, and the third longest human mission ever.

The mission was the longest by accident. It was originally supposed to be a standard six month tour, but was extended to a year when the Soyuz capsule they came in developed a leak in its coolant system and had to be replaced.

The previous record for an American in space of 355 days was set by Mark Vande Hei last year. This new year-long mission is only exceeded by two Russian missions on Mir, Valeri Polykov’s 439 day mission in 1994-1995, and Sergei Avdeyev’s 381 day mission in 1998-1999.

China launches classified satellite using its Long March 4C rocket

China today successfully placed a classified remote sensing satellite into orbit, its Long March 4C rocket lifting off from its Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China.

No word on where the rocket’s lower stages, which use toxic hypergolic fuels, crashed within China.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

68 SpaceX
44 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 79 to 44, and the entire world combined 79 to 70. SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) by only 68 to 70.

Gunhill Road – I Got a Line in New York City

An evening pause: Something a bit different. As noted on the youtube webpage, the visuals here “were created by human artists tapping into the assistance of leading-edge generative AI.” Normally I find the fad to go to AI to do our thinking and creativity for us to be more than appalling, but in this case it is clear the artists guided the art, and then fitted it well to the music.

Hat tip Bob Robert.

Sierra Space raises another $290 million in private investment capital

Sierra Space today announced that during its most recent funding round it successfully raised another $290 million in private investment capital, bringing the total capital it has raised to $1.7 billion.

The round is co-led by Japan’s largest bank, MUFG, Kanematsu Corporation, a Japanese trading company and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, Japan’s largest property and casualty insurance group with participation from Sierra Space’s existing investors. The companies are already participating in a JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) study to explore how to conduct activities in LEO as the ISS approaches the end of service.

These Japanese partnerships act to strengthen Sierra’s already strong links to Japan, including ongoing negotiations to land its Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttes at Oita Airport, as well as partnership deals with Kanematsu, Japan Airlines and Mitsubishi.

This successful fund-raising round suggests strongly that the company’s plans to finally have its first Dream Chaser cargo shuttle, Tenacity, ready to fly in December might actually happen. Or at least, that plan acted to convince these investors to pony up some cash.

Hat tip to Jay, BtB’s stringer.

Pushback: Federal court rules against ban of Christian student group by San Jose Unified School District

San Jose Unified School District:
San Jose Unified School District: Where Satan
worshipers are welcomed and Christians banned.

They’re coming for you next: On September 13, 2023 the Federal Ninth Circuit Court overturned a ban of the student group, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), by San Jose Unified School District, stating that the district cannot allow some groups it agrees with to meet on campus but ban religious groups it dislikes.

The history:

In April 2019, controversy erupted at the San Jose Unified School District’s Pioneer High School in California over a Fellowship of Christian Athletes requirement that student leaders comply with the group’s Statement of Faith and its Sexual Purity Statement. The former requires student leaders of the group to hew to the tenets of traditional Christian theology and the belief that “marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman,” while the latter affirms that “the appropriate place for sexual expression is in the context of a marriage relationship.” After a teacher complained about FCA’s faith requirements to the school principal and later presented his concerns to a school leadership “Climate Committee” composed of several school department chairs and administrators, the school revoked FCA’s official recognition as a school student club.

For the 2019-20 school year, FCA applied for recognition again and, predictably, was denied. Yet as the Ninth Circuit notes, the Satanic Temple Club, which even the complaining teacher believed was formed to mock FCA, was approved despite having its own set of non-religious “tenets” similar to FCA’s faith requirements.

» Read more

Lacking funds to build its spacecraft, the VERITAS project team goes to Iceland

Because NASA has cut almost all funding for the VERITAS mission to Venus in order to fund its overbudget, badly managed, and behind schedule Mars Sample Return mission, the VERITAS science team, held over with only a tiny holding budget for the next seven years, has taken a geology trip to Iceland to study the volcanoes there.

Early last month, one such field campaign took the mission’s science team to a barren and rocky region in Iceland. There, they studied rocks and surfaces near an active volcano named Askja. Such volcanic areas are being used as analogs of Venus to understand the different types of eruptions that may occur on its surface, and to test out various technologies and techniques to prepare for the VERITAS (or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) mission, which is not expected to launch sooner than 2031.

The article at the link focuses on this research, but the real story is this quote:

The VERITAS science team — which is being supported by a shoestring budget of $1.5 million until 2028, after NASA pulled the mission’s funding earlier this year and disbanded its entire engineering wing — collected samples of young rocks and recent lava flows near the Askja volcano that will be analyzed in a lab, according to a NASA statement.

The reason the budget was pulled was to scrap together any funds available from within NASA’s planetary program for that Mars Sample Return Mission, which is doing to the planetary program what the Webb Space Telescope did to NASA’s astronomy program: killing it. As long as NASA and Congress remain committed to that sample return mission, do not expect many new planetary missions to other planets to fly. Its budget has already quadrupled, and its launch is already expected to be delayed. Worse, the mission’s basic design remains tentative, with many major components nothing more than cool graphics on powerpoint presentations, despite having spent gigantic amounts already.

A mountain buried by lava on Mars

A mountain buried by lava on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on July 6, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

This 500-to-600-foot-high hill represents what is likely the top of a much larger mountain, now buried by the flood lava that surrounds it. The edge of that flood lava can be seen best along the base of the hill’s northern slope, where this now hardened lava had washed up against that slope.

That this Martian mountain is very old can be discerned from two features. One, it had to have been there when the lava flowed, and scientists estimate these lava flows are at least one billion years old. Second, peak’s rounded shape and eroded edges (showing terraced layers) suggest it has been here for far longer, allowing Mars’ thin atmosphere and climate to weather it down.
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SpaceX donates used Merlin engine and Falcon 9 grid fin to Smithsonian

A SpaceX used Merlin engine and a Falcon 9 grid fin will go on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum when it reopens its east wing after a major renovation.

In addition to the 2019 launch of SpaceIL’s “Beresheet” moon lander, which entered lunar orbit but crashed into the moon’s surface, the donated Merlin engine was one of nine that flew on the first stages of two other Falcon 9 rockets. In 2018, it was launched twice from Vandenberg Air Force Base (today Space Force Base) in California, helping to loft commercial communications satellites (Iridium-6) and an Argentinian Earth-observation satellite (SAOCOM 1A). The latter stage was the first to land on land on the U.S. West Coast, as opposed to using one of SpaceX’s ocean-going droneships.

The grid fin flew only once, on the 2017 launch that placed a South Korean communications satellite in orbit.

From an engineering perspective, one can’t help wondering why SpaceX chose to donate these items in particular. Why for example did the grid fin fly only once? And why was the Merlin engine retired?

Bob Smith out at Blue Origin

Though this change probably comes four years late, the CEO of Blue Origin, Bob Smith, announced today that he is resigning from the company, effective at the end of the year.

The company’s incredibly slow implementation of all of its projects, which begun when Smith took over in 2017, has made it something of joke punchline in the space business. Suborbital test flights of its New Shepard spacecraft went from almost monthly test flights to none for years. Its orbital New Glenn rocket is four years behind schedule, and it is still doubtful it will fly next year. And the company’s BE-4 rocket engine was also years behind schedule and even now has caused enormous delays for its one outside customer, ULA, delaying the launch of its Vulcan rocket by at least four years. As noted at the link:

Smith brought a traditional aerospace mindset into a company that had hitherto been guided by a new space vision, leading to a high turnover rate. And Blue Origin remains significantly underwater, financially. It is likely that Bezos is still providing about $2 billion a year to support the company’s cash needs.

Crucially, as Blue Origin meandered under Smith’s tenure, SpaceX soared, launching hundreds of rockets and thousands of satellites. Smith, clearly, was not the leader Blue Origin needed to make the company more competitive with SpaceX in launch and other spaceflight activities. It became something of a parlor game in the space industry to guess when Bezos would finally get around to firing Smith.

Smith will be replaced by Dave Limp, who had been Amazon’s VP for devices and services until last month. Whether he can get this company moving again is still an unknown, considering he was also involved in launching Amazon’s Kuiper satellite constellation, the development of which has been as slow and uninspiring as all of Blue Origin’s projects.

Manon – Act I, ‘Bedroom’

An evening pause: Written by Kenneth MacMillan and performed by Marianela Nuñez as Manon and Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux of the Royal Ballet.

Contrast the gentility and elegance of this dance of two, of which Astaire and Rogers were of the same class, with that of the raw modern gymnastic routines of large groups. Both have their merits, but to me there is something more civilized and thoughtful about the former.

Hat tip Judd Clark.

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